A Facade with Special Effects at Calgary’s New Engineering School

A Facade with Special Effects at Calgary’s New Engineering School

The Schulich School of Engineering is the University of Calgary’s latest addition. Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, it features an impressive sensor-embedded glass wall that responds to light.

At the University of Calgary, the Schulich School of Engineering is aimed at creating a collaborative environment for science majors, and its common area is a four-storey sunlit atrium where students congregate on the steps of an open theatre or lounge on brightly coloured, X- and O-shaped seating designed by Dutch firm Feek.

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Glazing is an attractive and popular attribute of the new building and its light-filled atrium has become an instant hit with students. The all-season natural light is especially appealing in a city where temperatures can drop to the double-digit minuses in colder months. But how do you control unwanted glare and solar heat gain without windows to open or blinds to pull down?

In order to help counter the unwanted effects of sunlight, Toronto firm Diamond Schmitt Architects installed hundreds of sensor-embedded glass panels across the building’s south-facing facade. Manufactured by View Dynamic Glass, the panels tint to darker shades when the sun hits them, similar to the way transitional sunglasses shift from clear to dark. The tinting lets students enjoy the view without needing to put on a pair of their own shades.

Project lead David Dow says the four-storey wall is also programmable, allowing graphics to dance across the facade. “We’ve currently programmed it to go through a set sequence twice a day, with the tinting slowly dissolving into basic patterns as time passes.”

The new airy space, a joint venture between Diamond Schmitt and local firm Gibbs Gage Architectsadds dozens of classroom and laboratory spaces to accommodate 400 engineering students.

Another key element of the 18,300-square-metre building, says Dow, is the amount of flexibility that has been worked into its floor plan, where classrooms can easily be turned into laboratories and vice versa.

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Mechanical elements needed to equip labs, such as bulky fume hoods, have been pushed to the side so removing them is relatively uncomplicated. Benching has also been kept simple so it can be moved out of the way. “These spaces are phenomenally versatile,” says Dow, which will likely expand the life of the building. Flexible space means the building can accommodate virtually any type of educational activity. Says Dow: “If researchers need to bring in big equipment for experiments, for instance, the spaces are adaptable for those special requirements.”

The Schulich School is the second of two University of Calgary campus buildings by the Toronto firm. The Taylor Institute was completed last year. Diamond Schmitt has also recently been shortlisted for the prestigious Holocaust memorial in London.

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